Elizabeth Anionwu is a retired nurse, campaigner and Emeritus Professor of Nursing at the University of West London. A fellow of the Royal College of Nursing, she spent 40 years in the profession and has been named one of the most influential nurses in the history of the NHS. Her career was distinguished by her pioneering work in the understanding of sickle cell disease - bringing better treatment and support to the thousands living with it. She was the first sickle cell and thalassaemia nurse counsellor in the UK. Her decades of dedication, care and service are a contrast to her own disrupted childhood as a mixed race child born out of wedlock in the 1940s, though it was the kindness of a nurse when she was just five that sparked a nascent interest in what would become her life’s work. After leaving school at 16, with seven O-levels, Elizabeth was made a Professor of Nursing in 1998. She left her day job behind in 2007, but as she puts it “it has not turned out to be a quiet retirement”. She spent nine years fundraising and campaigning for a statue to British-Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole. Unveiled in 2016 in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital, London, the statue is the first in the UK to represent a named black woman. Elizabeth received the DBE in 2017 for services to nursing and the Mary Seacole Statue Appeal. DISC ONE: Faith’s Song by Amy Wadge DISC TWO: The Rakes of Mallow, Girl I Left Behind by The Gallowglass Ceili Band DISC THREE: Manman by Leyla McCalla DISC FOUR: A Te,O Cara by Andrea Bocelli DISC FIVE: Missa Bilban by The Jamaican Folk Singers DISC SIX: I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free by Nina Simone DISC SEVEN: Nnekata by Flavour N'abania DISC EIGHT: My Girl by Otis Redding BOOK CHOICE: Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama LUXURY ITEM: A trampoline CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free by Nina Simone Presenter: Lauren Laverne Producer: Cathy Drysdale
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Bbc sounds music radio, podcasts Lauren Laverne here we're taking our summer break so until the back corner, we're showcasing a few programs from our archives. As usual, the music's been shortened for rights reasons. This week's guest is dame Elizabeth, an eon, woo emeritus, professor of nursing. I cast her away in twenty twenty, the The My castaway this week. is professor dame Elizabeth naked. Anyone with an american esther of nursing and fellow of the royal college of nursing. She spent forty years in the profession and has been named one of the most influential nurses in the history of the nhs her career was distinguished.
I her pioneering work in the understanding of single cell disease, bringing better treatment on support to the thousands living with it. She was the first sickle cell specialist nurse in the uk, her decades of dedicate shouldn't care and service, or contrast to her own disrupted and difficult childhood as a mixed waste child born out of wedlock? In the nineteen forties, though, it was the kindness of a nurse when she was just five that sparked a nascent interest in what would become her life's work. He left her day, job behind in two thousand and seven, but as she puts it, it is not turned out to be a quiet retirement Well is receiving her dame put. She spent nine years for raising and campaigning for a statue to british jamaican nurse Mary siecle unveiled in twenty. Sixteen, in the grounds of Saint Thomas hospital statue, is the first representing a named black woman in the uk. She says. Despite its rocky start, my life has been extremely fulfilling. Most importantly, it has been agreed
education of all that my mother had to endure elizabeth annie on. We welcome to desert island discs. Thank you very much learn. Thank you for being here now, like many we'll be listening today, yourself, isolating because of your ass. Have you been getting on? I've actually got used to it now. Initially, the first few days were quite scarier have to be honest, but I've got into a sort of pattern and I've got a balcony and there are communal gardens that virtually nobody uses, which I'm delighted up so that I can do- and I was walk out there and listen to my mind- is fake and yes, I'm going to get to that and friends and relatives are all in contact. I have a twelve year old, granddaughter who is face. Timing like nothing on earth ah- and I think it has help me avoid sinking into any sort of depression with. What is going on human contact
is really valued. Now I wonder what you ve made: if the thursday night caught for carers, I think it's it showing people solid. alrighty. But I have to say I do agree with people that some. We hope that an nhs staff are really valued now and they need to continue with that in more, less than one shall I say, speaking of nature deaf. Obviously we know that among the age has stuffy tragically lost their lives during the pandemic, a disproportionate number, perhaps as many as sixty percent of being of blackened minority ethnic heritage. now we know the Anais chess applying to tackle this, but as someone who spend their whole professional life in health care, what are your thoughts about that? Will all the deaths due to the covert nineteen pandemic here in the uk are absolutely tragic. But as a black nurse, I'm so scared for my colleagues. What would you like to see happen? What needs to change
All staff in the nhs need to be listened to, but there's been a history of black and minority ethnic health professionals not really being valued as much as they should be, and for so many to have given their lives. To this and close to me, are so many colleagues from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and I just want them to be listened to and paid more and valued as all nhs staff should be we're going to come back. Experiences working in the health service, late or of course, but for now we're going to turn to a list of tracks. Let's hear the fast discourse elizabeth: what's it going to be an wives chosen, this one, it's Amy.
singing faith song and I see it as my love song to an hs professionals. It's very poignant and I think people Listen to the words. They will understand the relevance at this critical moment in our country I gave you all that you need you can't leave in all my strength, gave I love completely. You stand here and all of my
in large, with faith song elizabeth Annie on we, let's go back a bit. You were born in nineteen forty seven, your mother was a promising students who had won a scholarship to cambridge, and it was there that she met your father. He was a fellow students from nigeria. What happened? Well, I haven't laura. I was the outcome of the shorter fur and it was a huge shock for my mother. She came from of deeply religious catholic firmly and it was my Maternal grandmother realised that she was pregnant during a trip back home to stop, and all my mother would say was that the father of the baby was a fellow student, nothing else. And so, when my grandparents came to visit my mother and me at the mother and baby home, run
on irish nuns before they let them into the room, but that that the non turned round to them and said to be sure there is little back so. This was obviously the first realisation that the father of the baby wasn't white, as they would have assumed I can only imagine the waves of shocks that everybody went through, including obviously my mother. What's your sense of what she would have been facing, I think that the first thing would be absolute, shame and stigma and letting people down, because there must have been such joy when she got that scholarship. She was the first one to go to university and to go to such a prestigious university and study classics. You know, and she was doing brilliantly, apparently the universe
so it's my mother. I often think of what what the fear that she must have had in revealing the news, but she chose not to go back to university. In many years later she told me it was because she didn't feel that she could have the academic career that she wanted. As a single mother. She didn't want to give you up. She decided it was best for you to be brought up by the nuns, but was determined that you want to be adopted to what extent we you aware of that, the idea that she intended to come back for you? I always grew up knowing that my mother,
wanted to make a home. For me. I don't remember when she first articulated that to me, but I never ever had any sense of rejection from my mother, even though I spent nine years in the children's home she visited me regularly, so I never had a sense of rejection, an aunt she she. I know that that's helped me enormously through my life, it's time to go to the music. Your second disc did a elizabeth was going to be it's. The rakes of mallow, good old irish dance tune, and I did irish dancing in the children's home out until the age of nine. I absolutely adored irish dancing. Will you any good? I wasn't bad at all or, and I used to get metals and dressing off. You know we had our green outfit and lovely shoes with tat dancing. Yes, I thought
enjoyed it gallo, glass, katy bound with the rakes of milo civil isabel, and we tell me a little bit more about your experience of growing up. In cares. Little girl, you have moved from the first care home you lived in when you only three. I think what do you remember about the little girl at you? I then I think I got my sense of humour from an early age. I seemed on well with people
It also could get quite annoyed at what I would see as an injustices and poor care. I mean overall, I was happy, but there were some incidents which still said in my brain. Have, to be honest, one was because I was a bed wetter. They would drape over the urine soaked sheets over our bodies and we'd have to put our arms up under the sheet, and the punishment was that we had to keep our arms stretched out will, of course, you can't do that for very long and if your arm dropped, it was a nun on the other side of the sheet with a ruler or something and just whack you and- and I just thought that is so cruel and er we're just a few that were pretty tough characters. Others were much kind. I was taught to play the piano just a few of us and if we done our exercises, ok be taken into
I'm city centre and have knickerbocker glories converging few little kids sitting on these. I stalls digging down for the last drop. You know I've got wonderful memories of of that, for example, yes, and what about the other kids that you were living with with many other children of color at the home? Not until I was eight for most of my time, I was the only child of color and, for example, I washed my face ten times in what would have been red life boy soap. What was that about? That was obviously to be like my friends, so there must have been incidents that made me feel that different. I was other and I wanted to be. Like my friends I mentioned at the beginning of the programme that it was the kindness of one of the sisters that put you on the track to where you are now, what happened?
and how young were you? She was the most wonderful nun she used to run the sick by and I had very bad eczema and so I'd go for daily dressings coal, tar paste beat very cool, lovely bondage goes on, but then, when I had to go back for the dressing, I would actually peep round the door to see whether it was the nun with the white habit. That was there because the nun with the black of it she would just tear off the bandage and it would hurt- and I would cry, but if it was the nun with the white habit, she would use distraction therapy and she would use words like bottom when he knows the child to be brought up in a strict religious environment. I thought the word bottom was so rude and I would burst out laughing cause. While I laughed she would take the bandage off. I would not feel a thing. I just thought she was the most wonderful person on earth later on before I left the common. I realize she was something called a and nurse. I decide that's what I want to be here.
more about how you got there in a moment for now it's time for your next desk to day. What are we going to hear? It's called mama by Leila Mccullough, who is a haitian american singer, beautiful voice and, of course, mama his mother in french and This is normal to mine, wonderful mother, ma ma amselle mean dan mean the axiom I can do, that is the dsm. The guy that say again. The bag is a male, I'm kind of with my mum Elizabeth honey on with your mother, used to come and visit you at the children's home. What kind?
things did you do together and in the time you were able to have together, she would always take me out, come rain or shine under. We would go to the liquor hills, which was just up the road from where the convent was wonderful powers. where I had fantastic memories of rolling down the hill. She would take me for I screen it would be every month or so until I left at nine was a significant and important partner. Life. Then, when you were nine, your mother married a man called KEN and three years later, move to a council house involve a hum. with their young sons and she decided it was time for you to leave care and come and live with her such an important moment for you. How did you get on in your new home
When I arrived at my new home in over hampton, I was actually bit disappointed because I read a lot as a child and I the images of a home. There was always a fireplace and photographs hanging from the wall and the one of photographs hanging from the wall. It didn't look like image that I I had hoped for, on the other hand, I was welcomed by my oversee by my mother and my stepfather initially worked out, but I only stayed there for twenty months, because gradually there was a change, in the relationship between myself and my stepfather? I later learned
he was being teased by his mates in the pub about having a half caste child in the home and when my mother wasn't around, he started to physically abused me, but there is one particular incident where I had kicked my younger brother, who was a delightful brother and why had kicked him? I think my mother rued the day that she told my stepfather, because he hit me and I went sprawling across and hit my eyebrow on the wall. I bladder was painful. My mother was absolutely distraught because I think Ben was the revelation that actually
He had been physically abused me for some time, but I'd never told her how she got in touch with my maternal grandparents in the north west of england, and they rescued me. It's obviously difficult to talk about those memories still traumatic. How do you feel looking back such a young girl and having to go through so much tat? Was very traumatic period of my life. Initially, I was quite angry with my mother. I was angry. as I thought why didn't she protect me, but ass, I grew old. I realized she was true.
In her best. She desperately wanted to make a home for me, but going to stay with my grandparents. It healed a lot of issues. For me it never took away the scar of that experience, but it I think it showed me that there were good people around as well.
it's time for your fourth disc. What are we going to hear all this? Is the wonderful, andrea, bocelli singing to a cara from Bellini's opera, a pure attorney, and it would just cheer me up immensely. Oh the The
I The nah on the I, I t o cara from Bellini's opera e, pure attorney sung by Andrea Bocelli, so your love of opera came to you, Elizabeth, Annie Unruh, during the happy time that you spent with your grandparents. Unfortunately it was to be short, lived. Your grandfather died and later you went back. To live with your mother can and their family you'd always done well at school. Despite the upheaval, unease finally begun knows training in nineteen sixty five, that was it london's paddington general hospital. Do you remember putting all not uniform for the
First time. Oh, I certainly do we will get it out and to wear these paper caps. Yes, it I felt I started my nursing journey by wearing the uniform, no doubt at it you later trained to be a midwife in edinburgh and you became disillusioned with the hierarchical nature of the hospital and you decided to retrain as a health visitor. What was it that appealed to you about the job? I didn't actually complete. My midwifery course. I realized that I didn't cope well
with institutions where there were rules and regulations that didn't make sense. When I discovered this profession called health visiting you go into people's homes, and I knew then that you would have to earn the respect to get into people's homes you're, not on your own territory, but before I started the health visiting course. I had nine months despair and I decided to go and get a job in paris with a wonderful medical family, and I was teaching English to their children. Then I became friendly with a french benin, midwife who was quite active politically. I think- and I told her the story about washing my face ten times to try and become white. She said you know something. I know the very book that you should read and it's called black skin white masks by france phantom. I read this book and it
really try to explain about why people want to be white instead of black in terms of the impact of colonialism, and it was, though, the scales came off my eyes in terms of look. I'm brown skinned person and I don't know anything about my african heritage. When I came back to london. First thing I wanted to do was to get involved with black community activities, particularly health issues, and this was when I realised that there is this condition, call sickle seven anemia I've met. Families then will, when I was a visitor, and there were health inequalities in the sense that there wasn't as much information about this condition. Care could be much better and I was now spoke up and decide This is an area that I would like to get involved with, but it was also helped by the fact that
he mythology. School documentary Peter gave a couple of lectures I a lot of questions and after the second talk she came running after me and cut a long story short. We ended up working together and I became the first sickle cell nurse specialist in the uk back in nineteen. Seventy nine elizabeth, let's take a break for some music. What are you going to hear and why have you chosen this next desk? So my next disc is mister bill burn by the jamaican folk singers, and I love folk music- and I heard this when I first when
out to jamaica in the late seventys to learn more about sickle cell in some men, with the jamaican, focusing it with an elizabeth on Elizabeth Annie onwards. So we heard that, after you became a health visitor, sickle cell, the
focus of your life's work. Our understanding of single cell anemia is better now than it was back then, but many people still don't know much about it. Can you explain what it is? It's an inherited disorder of the red blood cells, the hemoglobin inside the red blood cells. and if you have sickle cell anemia, you will have inherited it from both your parents, who generally do not have the illness. They are silent carriers and its characterized by mile to incredibly said fear. Episodes of pain, susceptibility to infections anemia as well, can affect virtually every organ in the body. What kind of understanding did people in general have off sick and sell disease? Back then zilch? I have to say I mean there would be pediatricians and blood specially seem at all, just who would have known about it, but I never had any lesson about it. In my neck,
training or my health, is the training, and this was starting to build up. She quite deep, seated anger in me, so you are determined to change what was going on. I mean how difficult task where you facing the problem that brought people into hospital. This is children as well as adults was what's called the painful crisis and by the time they went to the action emergency unit? They were rolling around in pain. I mean this is the most horrific pain that people can have and most of these patients were young and black, and there would be unfortunately, health professionals who thought they were drug addicts. Now. Can you imagine, and what about treatment, what was available for people? It really depended which hospital you went to and there were Deaths could have been avoided, and this is what encourage some of us to form. What is the sickle
sell society, national authority to enable families to come together with interested health professionals and others, and this actually did start to initiate a change in policy. You talked about the racism and no misunderstanding of the condition is: is that still a factor? Is that still out there? When you consider, The number of people who have the condition is its at least fifteen thousand people, not enough resources are allocated. If you compare it, took him too. Unlike cystic fibrosis, la cystic fibrosis is an extremely serious condition. A needs all
resources. This it's getting and probably more, but when we're talking about health inequalities, it's when you see disparities of that nature that you realise the still some place to go to get conditions on an equal footing, so that families do not feel that they are getting unless the quality of care simply because of the color of their skin it's time to take a break for some music. I think what are we going to hear next, and why have you chosen it? It's nina Simone. I wish I knew how it would feel to be free. I love nina Simone, both her voice, but also the life that she led. She was a gifted pianist who never made it to where she wanted to be, and she felt that that was due to racism. She was a feisty woman and I just I just love her to bits. To be quite honest, and this is my
favorite song of all that she has ever sung shiny, new boot fee to the free, then we could bring all the chains we could say things that I say out loud. Clean all round. How could she nina simone and I wish I knew how it would feel to be free Elizabeth, any on where we ve been talking about your professional life. But let's talk a bit more about your family. You have
no knowledge if your father, until nineteen seventy two- and that was when you asked your mother for his name now, quite unexpectedly, you discovered that he was in london. So what was the first meeting? Tommy vernon? Oh, it was fantastic I used to write a scooter in those days. I had got the north circular road and I remember parking scooter up to the front door on the nerves, really kicked in press the doorbell and he opened the door and you know line it was like many me. It was darker, male? He was larger than me. I just came this enormous bear hug and he welcomed me met my stepmother was just wonderful. What was he like? All he was very erudite. He was an ambassador before the nigerian civil war, very educated, very dry sense of humour, and in fact we discuss
would we have the same sense of humor and also the same love of music. That was wonderful. I never called him dad. Initially, it was my stepmother. After a few weeks at dinner, he's your father called him dad. Okay, You are able to visit him in nigeria later. How is it spending time with him there? It was wonderful and he just accepted me. I was his daughter and he was obviously very proud of what I had achieved. So far I was very quiet initially and at one point he said something that I didn't agree with and I just burst out and that all he said, oh he said I knew you must have had some views, but it was me having to you know, learn how to be a daughter how to have that daughter, father relationship and it worked out so well I mean, unfortunately, you know he he he died after. He is quite young, but I had a wonderful eight years of.
him and being introduced to my nigerian family it. It was like a bomb it soon, a lot of issues that I wasn't even aware of, and I became so much more confident and inwardly com. Yes, it's time for your next disk elizabeth, what if he chose in force and why it's a some boys elbow single flavour called nakata. My ibo name that was given to me on my first visit to nigeria is neca and it means my mother is supreme, and I thought that was wonderful for my family to appreciate everything that my mother had done. You know when my father wasn't around so this is why I have chosen the song, but also it's wonderful, nigerian sing.
But we do need to know the liberty Little shop from go. Got it no I wonder, however, whether or the and nikita elizabeth Annie onward.
After your distinguished career. You are awarded a dame hood in twenty seventeen for your services to nursing and for your role in campaigning for a statue of the nurse mary sequel, the british jamaican woman who treated british soldiers on the battlefield in the crimea and war at saint Thomas hospital. I said in my introduction The statue, which was unveiled just a few years ago, is the first statue of a a named black woman in the uk. People might be shocked by that. Why is it important that she's there well I must give recognition to Lord clive solely who started the merry sickle memorial statue appeal and it took twelve and half law
in the long years to raise the necessary money. Mary seacole is part of the history of britain, Jews of jamaican scottish heritage and the fact that she's brown skin should just not be important, but it is important and the joy of having this wonderful, wonderful monument in the grounds of ST thomas' hospital over the houses of parliament and Mary striding forth, and you know it is, though, she's keeping an eye on those politicians in its wonderful. From whatever background you are, but can you imagine how important it is for groups of individuals who don't always feel accepted in? I took my granddaughter down. She was there at the unveiling, but few months later, she said with me took it round in london, I run and our citizens think I'll. She wants the commission
I see Mary again, oh the joy in my heart. That's what it is about. My granddaughter can see a statue of a woman that looks like her in terms of skin color. It's just wonderful. You ve talked a lot about your mother today, Elizabeth and she died in two thousand and three. I know that your sister Mary once told you that you led the life that your mom should have. Let's, how did it feel hearing that? Oh. poignant commando made me cry hatched it's written on this, because I think my mother would have been a professor Mary bid to be quite honest. She was so brilliant as a woman, I you know regret that she didn't have the life she should have heard, but on the other hand, she got sucker joy and comfort from her children and your mother yourself and grandmother to having her.
such a disrupted early life and a tricky starts. I wonder: have that impacted your parenting? What kind of mother where you grandmother? I you I was told by friends how it's very over anxious mopped up my daughters of I've debts and we ve got a very close relationship and then to have the joy of a granddaughter. They both bring me great, great, great joy, one more disk, then before we cast you away to a desert island. What's it going to be Elizabeth, the wonderful! It is sing in my girl, but I think we should call it my girls for my daughter and my granddaughter on the other Nancy. the mountain.
Want target. Otis ready my girl, so it's time to asked you away to your desert island Elizabeth Annie on me now, I'm assuming that your nursing experience will stand you in very good stead for life as a cast away. So I'm going to give you three books to take with you. You have the bible, the complete works of shakespeare and a book of your choice, to what will that be? It would be president obama's memoirs dreams from my phone it's yours, you can also take a luxury item to make your stay on the island more enjoyable. What will it be? I'd like a state of the art, crumpling,
and the reason being. I have always wanted to jump on jump and jump and jump on a trampoline. I think it's the inner child in me, and it's going be nobody to see what I'm up to and it'll be my physical exercise as well, fabulous and finally, which one he rate wonderful desks. Would you say if the surf threatened to wash them all away? Nina Simone
I wish I knew how it would feel to be free, professor, dame elizabeth, Annie, unruh. Thank you. So much for sharing your desert island discs with us on cue, learn. It's been wonderful. The.
Transcript generated on 2023-10-02.